The Truth About Traveling with Kids

We’ve all seen the photos on Instagram of the smiling, seemingly happy children fully engaged in an activity when the photo was taken, stunning landscape background all around. I’ve even got some of those photos, like the ones of my daughter with the Andes Mountains behind her in Chile, or the ones of her splashing and playing in the water of the beaches in Greece, or ones of her laughing it up in Hobbiton in New Zealand.

What you don’t know is that on the drive to Hobbiton, my daughter was complaining about having to go there and asking if she could just sit in the car instead of going to some “stupid” place where she wasn’t going to have fun anyway. Nor do you see my daughter complaining to me and my husband for over an hour straight about pretty much anything that had been bothering her that school year but not one thing in particular as we hiked around the stunningly beautiful natural park in Chile with the Andes Mountains all around us. She ended up loving Hobbiton and Chile by the way, in case you’re wondering how those turned out.

In fact, for probably any place in the world my daughter has been, from Hawaii to San Diego and Aruba to New Zealand and everywhere else including 42 states of the United States and the ten countries she’s been to, at one point or another, there has probably been crying, complaining, whining, and/or general unhappiness coming from her regardless of where we were. I’ve even said to her, “Look around you. It’s gorgeous here. Seriously, why are you complaining so much? Most kids would love to be here doing this!”

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Hobbiton in New Zealand

The fact remains, traveling can be hard on kids. Traveling disrupts kids’ sleeping schedules, despite my husband’s and my strict adherence to our daughter’s nap and sleep schedule. When anyone, child or adult, isn’t in their own bed, they don’t sleep as soundly. I fully understand this and try to take it into account when my daughter is being whiny and is in a bad mood while we’re traveling and give her the benefit of the doubt.

Traveling can also put you out of your comfort zone and for kids they may not be able to fully understand how this effects them. For example, if you don’t speak the language where you’re traveling, not only is everyone around you difficult to understand, you can’t read street signs or menus in restaurants, and you can’t even unwind by watching TV if the shows are all in another language. The food is likely different from what you’re used to and often meals are on a different schedule than back home, such as a much later dinner. I remember my daughter in tears in Munich, Germany when she had to eat yet another brat, until we discovered just how good the Italian food is in Munich, and from then on she had pizza and all was good.

Just the simple act of flying to another state or country can be exhausting for families with children. I still remember my daughter having a total meltdown when we were standing in a security line at an airport, although I couldn’t tell you which airport. What I do remember is one of the nicest TSA agents I’ve ever met motioning to me from afar and showing me that she was going to let my family and me through a quicker line. I breathed a sigh of relief in knowing that even a few less minutes of standing in line would mean I could get my daughter to our gate that much quicker. Inevitably, my daughter was either tired or hungry then.

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Mad in Maine? Look closely and you’ll see the arm crossed over her chest, the scowl on her face.

Lack of sleep and hunger are the two things I know without a doubt will make my daughter cranky. When I’m traveling, I always make sure I bring a variety of snacks with me in my carry-on and since she was old enough, I’d put snacks and gum in her carry-on as well. So I’m pretty well-prepared on the hunger-side of things, but covering the sleep-side gets much harder. If we have an early-morning flight to catch, I can try to have my daughter go to bed early, but if you try to go to sleep an hour or two before you normally, do, can you easily fall asleep, or do you just lie there for an hour or so? Maybe this isn’t such a good example if you’re sleep-deprived, as many people are, but if you already get enough sleep, it’s difficult to go to sleep early.

As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I have gone to great lengths to make sure our daughter stays on her routine when we’re away from home. Once when I was at Disneyland with my daughter by myself for one day and my husband was joining us for the second day, I remember standing in the long line to board the “Nemo” submarine, and my then-two-year-old was sound asleep lying on my chest, while I was holding her. Fortunately, she was able to get her nap in and wake up just in time to board the submarine, so it all worked out, but the second day, I remember taking her to an indoor building that was quiet where not a lot of people were coming inside, and letting my daughter take a nap with her head in my lap. After that, she was good to go for a few more hours after dinner and then back to the room in time for her bedtime.

Another thing many parents don’t mention is the early bedtimes. Surely my husband and I aren’t the only parents in the world who have returned to our room so that our daughter could still go to bed at a reasonable hour, at least within an hour of her bedtime. Yes, we skipped the late-night cocktails, certainly the bars and clubs, the late-night musicians, and even the late-night fireworks at places like Disney when our daughter’s bedtime was well before then. We could have arranged for a sitter to watch her but honestly, I just never felt safe having a stranger come into my hotel room or airbnb property at night to watch my daughter while my husband and I went back out. Our solution was to just grab a bottle of wine while we were out and bring it back to the room so he and I could relax and unwind after our daughter had gone to sleep.

My daughter has also lost countless articles of clothing, bathing suits, flip-flops, bathroom articles, and who only knows what else while traveling. Of course we only know about some of the more obvious things like that entire outfit we must have left behind because a nice woman from the hotel where we stayed in New Orleans called to see if we would like her to ship the clothes back home to us for example.

We’ve also had to buy new clothes while on vacation for our daughter, like that time when we were driving through the Alps in Austria and she got car sick and threw up all over the rental car and herself. We were too far from our room to go straight back for a change of clothes so we had to find a children’s clothing store and figure out what size to buy her since the sizes were all different from those in the United States. Once we were back at the resort later that day, my husband had to try to figure out how to ask for something to clean the car out with even though his German was terrible. Everything worked out in the end, but these aren’t things a lot of people (most likely no one) would post on their Instagram accounts.

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Sad in South Dakota. My husband captured this photo in beautiful Custer State Park.

Speaking of getting sick while on vacation, my daughter once threw up in an airplane bathroom and it was apparently so bad they ended up closing off that bathroom for the rest of the flight. When my daughter said she felt sick because of the turbulence during that flight, my husband went with her to accompany her to the bathroom. We’ve had several turbulent flights since then, including ones where she got sick in the little white bags provided in the airplane seat backs but never anything quite that bad has happened again on a flight.

So, in summary, over the years, we’ve dealt with tantrums, crying fits, and general meltdowns. We’ve lost many items, most of which we didn’t even know we lost. My husband and I have foregone late-night concerts, cocktails, and other late events while traveling. Finally, we’ve dealt with motion sickness and other sicknesses along the way (colds, etc.).

What is my point in all of this? To scare you away from ever bringing your children on vacation with you? In fact, the opposite. I would like to encourage everyone to bring their children with them on their travels, but to acknowledge that bad things will happen. Bad things happen all the time to families, whether we’re traveling or at home. There’s no reason to think that just because you’re traveling, nothing bad will happen, so I just implore everyone to be realistic and realize that not everything is going to be perfect. Your children will not always behave perfectly, they won’t always enjoy themselves, they will get sick at times, they will lose things, and you as a parent will miss out on some things if they weren’t with you.

All of that being said, I can’t imagine traveling without my daughter. I’ve had so many teachers tell me from pre-school all the way up to middle school how traveling has enriched her life. As is the case with life as a parent, you take the good with the bad, and travel is no different. If you know that going into it everything will not be perfect, you can roll with the punches, so to speak, more easily. I think just knowing that other parents are going through the same thing you are or once went through it also helps.

Do you all travel with your children or do you prefer to leave them at home? No judgement here if you don’t travel with them! I completely understand it’s expensive to bring children and much more complicated in many ways.

Tell me about your travels with your children or about traveling with your parents when you were a child. I’d love to hear some stories!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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Book Review- Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance Book by Alex Hutchinson

I’ll cut to the chase here. I absolutely LOVED this book! It’s hands-down one of my favorite running-related books I’ve read in a while. This isn’t just a book for runners, though. It’s a book for any kind of person who is interested in gaining some insight into how the brain influences our bodies when pushed to extreme conditions. Be forewarned, though. If you’re looking for a training manual to help you increase your endurance, this is not the book for that.

There are a lot of scientific references in this book but don’t let that scare you away if you normally don’t like a lot of “science talk.” I’m a scientist and perhaps part of the draw for me was all of the science, but I don’t think it’s too over-the-top for most people. There are plenty of anecdotes and stories told throughout the book to keep things interesting. For example, the backdrop of the entire book is the 2-hour marathon attempt (Breaking2 documentary can be watched here) which the author comes back to every few chapters and helps keep the story going.

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The book itself is divided into three parts. In the first part “Mind and Muscle,” Hutchinson goes through the history of endurance research and the various theories used to explain it:  the “human machine” approach, Tim Noakes’ central governor theory, the psychobiological model by Samuele Marcora, and others. In the second part, “Limits,” he gives specific stories of people who have either intentionally or accidentally pushed or exceeded their limits in various ways such as pain, muscle, oxygen, heat, thirst, and fuel. Hutchinson vividly describes the experiences of polar explorers, Death Zone climbers, lost desert wanderers, and deep-sea freedivers among others as he looks for indications of which theories of endurance best fit the facts. In the third section, “Limit Breakers,” he explores various new approaches to expanding the apparent boundaries of endurance, ranging from mindfulness and brain training to electric brain stimulation, including accounts of his own experiences with some of them.

The last chapter of the book is about belief. The author states, “One of the key lessons I’ve taken away from writing Endure is that races aren’t just plumbing contests, measuring whose heart can deliver the most oxygen to their muscles. The reality is far more complex, and I think the first major post-Breaking2 marathon will be a great chance to see the “curious elasticity” of human limits in action.” Back to this chapter in a moment.

This book is 320 pages so it’s not a quick read. I found myself not wanting to put it down and I ended up staying up a bit later than usual sometimes when I read it before bed. Some of the stories are so engaging and thrilling, I found myself so engrossed that I just wanted to hear how the story ended before putting the book away for the night.

My take-away from the book is that we are capable of so much more than we realize. Sometimes our brain is just trying to protect us (if we’re running outside and it’s 90 degrees) but sometimes we have to take control and tell our brain that we CAN do this, whatever the current challenge is, even if it’s hard, or maybe especially if it’s hard. Positive self-talk is no secret and we’ve all heard how important it is for reaching our best effort, but we need to go beyond that if we want to push ourselves further.

I especially like one of the last pages of the chapter “Belief,” where the author states the following:  “This book isn’t a training manual. Still, it’s impossible to explore the nature of human limits without wondering about the best ways to transcend them. In the end, the most effective limit-changers are still the simplest-so simple that we’ve barely mentioned them. If you want to run faster, it’s hard to improve on the training haiku penned by Mayo Clinic physiologist Michael Joyner, the man whose 1991 journal paper foretold the two-hour-marathon chase:

Run a lot of miles

Some faster than your race pace

Rest once in a while”

Have any of you read this book? Are you interested in our brain’s involvement in pushing ourselves in any sport or activity? Do any of you have book recommendations for me?

Happy running!

Donna

Final Days and Final Thoughts in Alaska- Girdwood

After spending the bulk of our vacation in Alaska in Anchorage, Denali National Park, and Seward, we decided to spend two days hiking around Girdwood, which is just under an hour from Anchorage. We stayed at the beautiful Alyeska Resort and were able to snag the Summer Tram Package deal where you get free tram tickets when you stay the night. Alyeska Resort is a 300-room year-round hotel with skiing in the winter and hiking and mountain biking the rest of the year. My husband took advantage of the fitness center and sauna and said the fitness center was the nicest one he’d ever been to at a hotel.

I’ll be honest, though. As nice as the hotel is (and it’s very nice), a big reason we stayed here was for the tram, although you certainly don’t have to stay here to take the tram. After taking the tram up to the top, we hiked Mighty Mite and Mountain Top Trail. A pdf of the hiking and biking trails from the Alyeska Resort can be found here. You can also hike up the top without taking the tram but we thought the tram would be a fun experience and since the tickets were included in our hotel stay, it would have been silly to have not used them. From the top, we saw seven glaciers, high-alpine tundra, the Chugach Mountains, and Turnagain Arm. There is a lookout area, gift shop, Bore Tide Deli and Bar, and the fancy Seven Glaciers restaurant.

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Hotel Alyeska and a tram

After hiking and admiring the gorgeous views from the top, we checked out some of the shops in town. Girdwood is tiny and there aren’t a ton of shops or restaurants but you can find a handful. For restaurants, we liked Girdwood Brewing Company (there was a food truck when we were there with awesome Mexican food), Sitzmark, Alpine Diner & Bakery, and The Bake Shop. There’s also a couple of small art galleries, Girdwood Center for Visual Arts and Slack Tide Gallery.

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View from the top above Hotel Alyeska

Besides taking the tram to the top from the Hotel Alyeska and hiking up there, we really wanted to  hike Lower Winner Creek Trail. The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska. The first 3/4 mile is a wide, well-developed boardwalk. The next 1.5 miles are easy hiking along a firm dirt trail  through the Chugach National Forest. When you reach Winner Creek Gorge, you’re in for a special treat, the hand tram. The hand tram is just like it sounds, powered by hand, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have people waiting on both sides of the gorge who will happily pull the ropes to get you across the gorge (otherwise you will have to pull yourself across). I have a fear of heights but loved going across the hand tram and highly recommend it.

Since we were pressed for time and had to fly out of Anchorage that evening, we only had time to turn around after taking the hand tram across the gorge (so we went across the gorge then immediately got in line to go back across the gorge in the tram). From the hotel to the hand tram and back is a 2 to 2.5 hour round-trip adventure. If you have time and energy to continue hiking, it’s one mile to Crow Creek Road. Crow Creek Mine is a few hundred miles up the road from there. If you want a quicker route, you can start at the Winner Creek Gorge Trailhead at Milepoint 2.9 of Crow Creek Road, hike for one mile to the hand tram, another 0.2 mile to the Gorge, then hike back to your car.

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The hand tram over Winner Creek Gorge

You can also extend your hike by turning right at the gorge and taking Upper Winner Creek Trail. There are multiple water crossings and the trail gets more primitive the further up you go. If you want you can continue over the pass down to the Twentymile River on the other side and packraft out to the Seward Highway. From the Hotel Alyeska to Twentymile River to the Seward Highway is a full day excursion and only recommended for experienced hikers in the Alaska backcountry.

Of course you can always just make a day-trip from Anchorage to Girdwood. Since I ran a half marathon in Anchorage, Skinny Raven Half Marathon, and we were going to drive straight after the race to Denali National Park, which is north of Anchorage, I didn’t want to hike that much before the race to save my legs. Our big loop of Anchorage to Denali to Seward to Girdwood before flying out of Anchorage seemed like the perfect way to do it and I’m glad we planned it that way.

Now I’m already planning another trip to Alaska. We’re thinking it would be cool to go a bit further north, say Fairbanks to see the northern lights during the winter. That won’t be for a few more years probably, but I have a feeling we will definitely be returning there.

Have any of you been to Alaska? What was your favorite part? If you haven’t been, what would you most like to see or do? My favorite part was going to Denali National Park but I loved so many other things as well. The boat tour in Kenai Fjords National Park was incredible and just being able to hike as much as we did and get to see as many amazing views as we did of glaciers and mountains was awesome. Do any of you plan your next vacation to a place before you even leave?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Color Vibe 5k

It seems fitting that the Color Vibe 5k was in a mall parking lot since the only other 5k I ran (not counting the one I ran with my young daughter a few years ago at her pace) was in a mall parking lot. Hmmmm. Two 5ks in a mall parking lot? There go the points for a scenic race. Somehow I missed that when I signed up for this race. I also missed the fact that it was a fun run and therefore not timed. Therefore no age group placings and no age group awards.

My flakiness aside, let’s get to the race details. The Color Vibe 5k is in every state in the United States plus Washington, D.C. and several countries outside the US. According to their website, there have been over a million participants. I know many of you have probably run a color race of some sort before and they certainly aren’t novel. There are many different variations on color runs, where they throw colored powder at you as you run along the course.

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I ran the Color Vibe 5k in Raleigh, North Carolina on September 8, and packet pickup was on September 7 (although I believe you could pick up on race morning). It was quick, easy, and efficient. I went to the tables set up in the mall parking lot and picked up my bib along with my daughter’s, my race t-shirt (white cotton and yes I actually wore it during the race even though never in a million years would I ever wear cotton to run in unless I had absolutely nothing else to run in), two color packets, 4 temporary tattoos, and 2 pair of Color Vibe sunglasses.

On race morning, there was a local Zumba instructor leading some dance moves and getting the crowd motivated. The music was good and everyone was in good spirits. About 10 minutes before the race began, the announcer had everyone throw their colored powder that we picked up at packet pickup and it was a haze of colors everywhere. The kids in the crowd obviously loved it and the stage was set for everyone to have a great time.

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Thankfully not all of the color along the course was blown by a leaf blower as shown here!

The race began at 8 am and it was already 80 degrees out, with the sun beating down. The course wound along the shopping mall parking lot and was about as uneventful as it sounds, as far as scenery. There also wasn’t a single place along the course where there was any shade. Volunteers threw colored powder at several places throughout the course, so there was no getting away from not being absolutely covered in color by the end. There was also a water station along the course.

Thankfully, the race was over and my watch showed me finishing in 23:33. Since the race was an untimed fun run, I won’t get credit for it on any of the places that keep your race times. I was surprised at how much my competitive spirit came out during the race. Because of the hot, humid conditions, I kept thinking, what incentive do I have to push harder? There aren’t any age group recognitions or awards. What real incentive do I have to go faster? Ultimately I did push harder than if I was just out on a training run, but probably not as much as if it would have been timed.

We received bottled water and a medal at the finish. There was also an after-race party where prizes were to be given out. I was so drained from the heat and also had another 3 miles to run to get my long run in for the day that I didn’t stick around for the post-race party.

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Would I do another color run again? Probably not, especially if it’s not timed. I’ve determined “fun runs” are not for me. I do enough “fun runs” on my own, which I prefer to call “training runs.” However, I should say I ran this with the idea that my daughter would also run it and I thought we’d be running together. She wasn’t feeling it that day and ended up running a bit behind me at her own pace. My daughter, who is even more competitive than I am said she had a great time and asked if we could do it again (I told her I would not be doing it again).

What about you guys? Have you run a color run? An untimed “fun run”? What do you think of fun runs?

Happy running!

Donna

Seavey’s Sled-Dogs and Seasick in Seward, Alaska

The drive from Denali National Park (you can read about Denali National Park here) was a long one, at about 6 1/2 hours, but fortunately it was a beautiful drive. Since we drove from Anchorage after spending a few days there, the drive to Seward was at least partially familiar to us. We had driven along part of Turnagain Arm from Anchorage so we got to enjoy the views of that section again, which was one of the most scenic parts of the drive. The drive along the Seward Highway is definitely one of the best road trips you can take.

The part of Alaska where Seward lies is called the Kenai Peninsula. There are close to 20 glaciers in the Kenai Peninsula, so if you don’t see a glacier here, you’re not trying very hard. We decided to break up the long drive to Seward by stopping at Byron Glacier. Driving south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway, go to the end of the 5-mile Portage Spur Road. Byron Glacier trailhead is near Portage Lake. It’s a one-mile scenic walk to the glacier face along Byron Creek. We attempted to cross the creek but found it impossible without getting our shoes completely soaked and I was concerned about slipping and falling in with my camera, so we decided to just cross the rocks facing the glacier to get as close as we could that way.

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Byron Glacier area

We also hiked to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park (which has no entry fee). It’s a short 15-20 minute easy hike and you get to hike through a forest and along a gravel river bar. There are markers along the trail to show the glacier’s recession over the past 120 years. It really puts things into perspective when you hear about glaciers getting smaller by being able to see just how far Exit Glacier has receded over the years.

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Exit Glacier is much smaller now than it used to be but is still impressive

On our second day in Seward, we took a Kenai Fjords National Park tour with Kenai Fjords Tours, a 6 hour boat tour. We were forewarned that the water could be rough so my daughter, husband, and I all took motion sickness prevention medicine. Unfortunately my husband and daughter were sick pretty much the entire six hours. My poor daughter threw up for about 5 1/2 hours straight despite having medicine, three kinds of ginger candies/chews, and ginger ale. My husband had two different kinds of medicine and was still sick although not as bad as our daughter. I was the only one of us three who actually enjoyed the boat tour, which is sad because it was a truly awesome experience for me.

On the boat tour, we got to see sea otters, humpback whales, sea lions, puffins, common murres, bald eagles, and some glaciers, with Holgate Glacier being the best. Our captain was great and she gave interesting commentary along the way and pointed out all of the places and animals of interest. When we saw three whales that were interacting with each other very close to our boat, the captain took some time to let us hang out and watch the whales until they stopped surfacing on the water. We saw other whales along the way as well.

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Photo op from the boat tour with a piece of the glacier

For our third day in Seward, we went to what became my daughter’s favorite part of our time in Alaska, Seavey’s Ididaride. Mitch Seavey is a three-time Iditarod champion, with the record for the fastest time in 2017. If you’re not familiar with the Iditarod, it’s a sled-dog competition that goes from Anchorage to Nome. The race began as a way to get the locals more interested in dog sleds when interest began to decline due to increased use of snowmobiles. It’s so intense that mushers must have qualifying races just to enter the Iditarod. There’s big money for the winners, though, with recent previous champions winning anywhere from around $50,000 to $75,000. Why the variance? To give an example, total prize money in 2018 was $500,000 and was divided up among all of the 52 finishers. In 2017, the person in 21st place received $11,614 but in 2018, the 21st finisher  received $1,049, with more of the total prize money going to the first finisher.

More importantly, these dogs, Alaskan Huskies, which are a mixed breed usually combining the Siberian Husky with other working dog breeds like the Alaskan Malamute or Greyhound, are made for running. They clearly love to pull the sleds and get excited when they know they’re going to get to go for a run. There were 7 of us on our cart, which they use during the warmer months to keep the dogs in shape, and the dogs easily and happily pulled us through the woods. I really enjoyed hearing our musher’s stories along the way. He was as enthusiastic as the dogs were about dog sledding, and obviously loved what he did for a living. Before we got to ride the cart, though, we got to hold puppies! My daughter, who loves Huskies and wants one when she’s an adult, said this was her favorite part of our entire time in Alaska. The puppies were three weeks old and were absolutely adorable.

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Potential future Iditarod participant

Have you all heard of the Iditarod before? I had heard of it before but didn’t really know many of the specifics before going to Seavey’s Ididaride. It’s an interesting race with some hard-core mushers. Our musher told us how “great” it is to be out there on the Iditarod trail with your dogs and it’s 40 or 50 below zero. I can’t even imagine.

Happy travels!

Donna

My First 5k in 20 Years!

This weekend I’ll be running a 5k, and it will only be my third 5k ever. The last 5k I ran was with my daughter at her pace a few years ago, so I’m actually not counting that one. My first 5k was my first race as an adult and it was about 20 years ago, so the race this weekend is bound to be a PR! Well, maybe.

If you follow my blog, you know I run half marathons and am currently on a quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. I just ran one in Alaska, the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, my 43rd state. Since I focus on running half marathons, I just haven’t put any effort into training for and running any 5k’s, probably a mistake on my part I know, but maybe that will change now.

This weekend I’m running a Color Vibe 5k, where they throw handfuls of paint powder at you as you run the course. Hmmmm, maybe not the best choice of a race if I’m looking for a PR, you may think. I had one friend who has run a race like this tell me flat out that there will be people running like mad all around the course with no rhyme or reason and frankly no one runs a race like this if they want to PR. Further, this race isn’t chip-timed, so there will be no age group awards since there will be no official timing.

However, I’ve always done things a bit differently than others. I’ve never run a Disney race, a Rock n’ Roll series race, an obstacle race, or many of the other hugely popular races. I ran a half marathon in Naples for my Florida race Naples Daily News Half Marathon, Florida- 8th state, opting for that over one of the many half marathons in Orlando. For my race in Georgia, I chose to run along a highway Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state instead of choosing the more popular races in Savannah (a big mistake on my part in retrospect since the race I ran was pretty awful).

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From the Color Vibe website

So it seems I’m going in the other direction for my next 5k, opting for one of the hugely popular races. The Color Vibe is in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, plus several other countries. According to their website, over a million people have participated in Color Vibe races. The group that puts on these races is for profit, but they partner with local charities to give them a portion of the proceeds, so at least there is that.

When I signed up for the race, they were running a special where a child 12 and under could run for free with an adult, and since my daughter won’t turn 13 until 2 weeks after the race, I took advantage of the deal and signed us both up. My daughter is hugely competitive, though, and will not be happy at all when I tell her there are no age group awards (she’s won several AG awards so far and has gotten spoiled by that, I think). For my $34.99 plus processing fees I get two entries to the race, a race shirt, two tattoos, color pack, sunglasses, and medal. Not bad, but honestly I kind of wish there were going to be age group awards.

I guess I’ll have to see how this race goes and maybe sign up for a “real” 5k either this fall or next spring. By real I mean one that doesn’t promote itself as a fun run and a race where I can actually push myself to my full potential without anything crazy going on around me (like packets of color being thrown in my face). I do see the value of running a 5k and would like to eventually see how I can do.

Have any of you run a color race like this one? How was it? Any last-minute 5k advice for me?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Denali National Park in Alaska

Although it would mean riding in a car for around 4 1/2 hours right after running a half marathon in Anchorage (Skinny Raven Half Marathon), I knew I couldn’t go to Alaska and not go to Denali National Park. Sure, I could have added another day to Anchorage and left the day after the race, but we only had so much time to spend in Alaska and I preferred to spend that time in Denali instead since we had already spent three nights in Anchorage.

Denali National Park is a whopping 6 million acres, most of it natural and untouched by humans. Don’t expect to see even a quarter of the park when you go. There is one road that goes through the park and you can only take a private vehicle as far as mile 15 (the park entrance is the beginning of the mile markers, so Mile Post 15 or MP15 is as far as you can drive yourself into the park).

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Grizzly bears (a.k.a. brown bears) in Denali!

When you go to Denali National Park, you have some options as to how to spend your time in the park. You can camp in either a tent or RV, and there are six campgrounds, from mile 0.25 (Riley Campground, the only campground open year-round) to mile 85. If you stay at a campground beyond mile 14, you will need to take a camper bus to get there, with the exception of Teklanika River Campground at mile 29, which allows RV’s as well as tents. You can find information on camping at Denali here.

Since you can only take a private vehicle as far as mile 15, if you want to do some hiking beyond that in the park, you have to take a transit bus. Transit buses run from the Wilderness Access Center with the first stop at mile 53, Toklat River, which takes about 3 hours, 15 minutes each way or you can go as far as mile 92 to Kantishna (it will take 6 hours in and 6 hours out from here). We decided to go a bit more in the middle to mile 66 to Eielson Visitor Center, which takes 4 hours in and 4 hours out. More information on transit buses can be found here. In short, transit buses give you the flexibility to get on and off pretty much anywhere you want. There are bathroom breaks and our transit bus driver gave us some great narrative along the way and stopped for animal sightings any time someone from the bus saw something. Don’t believe what the website says about transit buses not being narrated, because ours were (both in and out, although the first driver was much more talkative than the second) and we were told most transit drivers do narrate along the way.

Although we wanted to do some hiking in the backcountry, we knew with such a long bus ride back (4 hours) we should keep it fairly short. At Eielson Visitor Center, there are two options for hiking, the Alpine Trail and the Tundra Loop Trail. Our transit bus driver told us we should only go on the Alpine Trail if we had bear spray but we should be fine without bear spray on the Tundra Loop Trail (but to still be aware of bears since they’re always a possibility in the park), so guess which trail we chose- yes, the Tundra Loop it was! The Tundra Loop Trail is around a third of a mile through alpine country. A spur trail adds an additional quarter of a mile, one-way, off the Tundra Loop. After hiking that, we waited at the visitor center for another bus and made our way back to the park entrance.

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View from the Tundra Loop Trail

Your third option for spending time in the park if you want to go beyond mile 15 is to take a bus tour where you stay on the bus the entire time other than to take bathroom breaks and short stops. There are three bus tours, the Denali Natural History Tour (4.5 to 5 hours round-trip), the Tundra Wilderness Tour (7-8 hours round-trip), and the Kantishna Experience (11-12 hours round-trip). Some walking is involved on bus tours, but you don’t have the option to hike on your own.

The final option for spending time in Denali National Park is to explore the first 15 miles of the park on your own. There aren’t many trails in the park considering how large it is, but many of the trails are near the front part of the park, rather than the backcountry part, which is left natural. On our second day at Denali, we hiked the Horseshoe Lake Trail, Taiga Trail, Spruce Forest Trail, Morino Trail, and Rock Creek Trail. Information about all of these trails and more can be found here. We found a perfect balance to all of this hiking by sandwiching our hiking with a stop at the sled dog kennel and watching a demonstration after doing a few trails, then doing a few more trails after going to the sled dog kennels.

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Views from the Tundra Loop Trail

A note about the sled dog kennels. Denali National Park is the only national park in the US that has sled dogs. The sled dogs originally patrolled the park for poachers but continued the tradition once the rangers found the sled dogs were more reliable than snowmobiles. The kennels are open to visitors year-round. After a brief talk about the dogs and the history of the sled dogs by a ranger, we got to see the dogs in action as they pulled the ranger around on the cart used during the summer, then we took our own self-guided tour around the facilities. It’s obvious these dogs are true working dogs and they love what they do; they got so excited when they knew they were going to get to run. We were there for about an hour to hour and a half total.

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Denali sled dogs in action!

We spent three nights in Denali, with 2 full days at the park, and found that to be a perfect amount for us. The transit bus turned out to be my favorite part of our entire time in Alaska. We got to see many brown bears, caribou, eagles and other birds, dall sheep, and marmots in the park. The bear sightings were all from the safety of the bus, so my fears of coming upon a bear while hiking were unfounded.

Have any of you been to Denali National Park? What did you do there? Would you like to go if you haven’t been?

Happy travels!

Donna